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Party Like It's 1865!
August 15, 2008

Victorian Dance Ensemble

Members of the Victorian Dance Ensemble

Not every Civil War reenactor tramps off to the battlefields with rations of hardtack; some prefer to hit the dance floor instead. On Saturday August 16 at noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m., the Victorian Dance Ensemble will be performing at SAAM in honor of the exhibition, The Honor of Your Company is Requested: Lincoln's Second Inaugural Ball. The dance troupe will also be demonstrating some of the more popular dances of the mid-nineteenth century, so come prepared to dance! And for those who can't stop dancing, don't forget to visit the exhibition which features schematics of the waltz steps right on the floor.

In advance of the Victorian Dance Ensemble's performances at SAAM, Eye Level spoke to Dr. Lawrence Keener-Farley, the dancemaster of the troupe.

Eye Level: What does your company have in store for us on Saturday?

LKF: This will be a series of demonstrations as well as audience participation featuring the types of dances that would have been done in 1861 and 1865, including quadrilles, waltzes, and polkas. We'll be teaching The German Waltz which starts in a circle with everyone joining hands. You first waltz with your partner, then repeatedly change partners throughout the dance.

Eye Level: How long has the Ensemble been performing?

LKF: We were founded in 1995 by Dr. Thomas Foster, a Civil War reenactor, who began teaching Victorian dance. The Ensemble grew out of those classes. Upon his retirement, I became the dancemaster.

Eye Level: Do we know if the President and Mrs. Lincoln were good dancers?

LKF: From what we know, he apparently was not a good dancer. There's a story that when he was courting her he told her, "I want to dance with you in the worst way." After their dance, she apparently said that it was, indeed, the worst. But we don't know if that really happened or if that's just a story.

Eye Level: I like it. Bravo Mrs. Lincoln!

LKF: In 1861, at the first inauguration, she danced a quadrille with Stephen Douglas, who a year before lost the presidential bid to Abraham Lincoln. I don't know if you'd see anything like that today.

Eye Level: I guess we'll need to wait and see. Meantime, we're looking forward to welcoming your ensemble on Saturday, in the building that hosted Lincoln's inauguration.

LKF: We'll be dancing in the Great Hall, on the third floor, a wonderful Victorian space. What makes it very special is that we'll be dancing in the same building where a Civil War ball was held. That's very meaningful for us.

Eye Level: Thank you for your time. We'll put on our dancing shoes and see you on Saturday.

Related Post: The Last Waltz: Lincoln's Second Inauguration

Posted by Howard on August 15, 2008 in Post It


Love the title!

I love all kinds of art, your blog is very interesting, I became a reader.

Thanks for checking in with us. We're delighted that you like our blog and we can call you one of our readers. Thanks, mom. OK, just kidding. Thank you Rubens. Welcome, and let us know what topics interest you.

We were a little disappointed as far as authenticity, by some of the dresses the women wore, and by several obvious mistakes made during the dancing; since we thought it was advertised as a semi professional group.

I was only recently made aware of this post. I wish Mary Sigourney had been more detailed in what she thought was inauthentic about the dresses. I do not recognize her name as an authority on 19th century clothing but I do not know everyone in the field. If there was something that was wrong with the clothing, we would like to know. The VDE has an authenticity committee that reviews all clothing based on currently available research. Dresses are based on original clothing, period photographs and drawings. Juanita Leisch-Jensen, author of Who Wore What and President of the Society for Women in the Civil War has used VDE ladies in her fashion shows. Many of the dresses worn at the Smithsonian were made by Beth Miller-Hall and Robin Stokes, both are noted clothing historians, writers and lecturers on Civil War-era clothing, and judges of the NSSA Clothing Competition. After the demonstrations, we ask people to come forward with questions. The only clothing question we received was "Why were some of the ladies were in day dresses rather than ball gowns?" We did this because the newspaper reports of the ball said some of the ladies had dress up to the neck and down to the wrist. It was even reported that some ladies dropped there cages (hoops) because of the crowd. Please refer any questions to our website

Well if there was something that was wrong with the clothing, we would like to know.

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